“It fulfills a need within me.”
Don Caruso has had many lives. He used to work at Channel 7, in the real estate business and ran a catering company. He was even a weekend chef for Meals In Marin feeding homebound AIDS patients.
Over two decades ago, he received a call from a Ritter Center board member. “Could you put together a menu for our Christmas dinner?” asked Carol Farrer.
Don put a lot of thought into what would make a heartwarming holiday meal. Soon he found himself helping to cook it!
“I love to cook,” says Don who cooks each year with father and son team Mike and Scott Kelly. “It fulfills a need within me. I get to see the grins of people who are coming in homeless and get to sit down and celebrate the holiday. We serve at least a couple hundred people and everyone is so grateful to be there.”
This year everything looks different. COVID-19 has changed everything.
We may not be able to serve people food in the same way as years past, but we can still nourish people’s hearts, spirits, and bellies. Although people will this year pick up their meals to go, that same delicious menu will still hold true.
Tri-tip steaks browned and sliced served nestled next to scalloped potatoes melted with gruyere cheese and caramelized onions.
“We cook those potatoes in a large tray, and as they brown at the top, we push it down, form a crust, and repeat three times to have that special crunchiness throughout every bite,” recalls Don.
“We beg, borrow or steal to source the ingredients to make this meal special,” remembers Don. “It satisfies the soul. We make
a gravy for the beef with shallots and diced pancetta with beef stock. Then we take all the drippings from the pan and incorporate them. We prepare the green beans with grated lemon, butter and salt – simple, clean and delicious. We usually make a green salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, and keep it fresh and easy with a classic Italian dressing of oil and vinegar. We also serve a few hams sliced with a little bit of dressing made slightly sweet with brown sugar.”
At the end of the event, each guest receives a holiday care package chock full of practical things to make life on the street just a little bit easier if possible.
“We are in the kitchen cooking and it is quite a moment when the meal is done being served, and we go out to the dining room. They acknowledge the chefs, they clap and we leave as they get to enjoy a fine meal. It truly is a unique and special feeling of satisfaction, helping to take care of other people, and as someone fortunate enough to have had great parents myself and been married 50 years, with three sons, it feels good to give back. It brings me joy to see people come into this dinner and start to smile. So much of what they eat is makeshift — whatever they can find. But when they sit down to a really nice, well presented and well prepared meal, it is a moment of pure delight.”
Thank you, Chef Don!